October 08, 2005

Boston and two surrounding towns


Originally, we had planned to spend a few days in and around Beantown loosely coinciding with Hoang's birthday. Then reality set in and my grand plans for expensive side trips kind of went by the wayside. Then the weather turned into a nightmare so we simply decided to drive up to Boston, check into our hotel, go to a nice dinner, go to a party our friend was having, then go home the next day.

And that's exactly what we did. The drive up was uneventful other than the exceedingly heavy rain at times. We left West Hartford a bit late, so we checked into the lovely Homestead Extended Stay Suites in Waltham a bit later than planned. Travel tip: When staying one or two nights on weekends, check these types of places out. They cater to the weekday business traveler, so they really reduce the prices on the weekends. We got a very large suite with a kitchen and living room for less than 100 bucks after taxes and all that crap. And Waltham is only 20 minutes from downtown Boston by car. There was an immense, brand-new Westin right next door that in more carefree (read: unpregnant, irresponsible) days, I'd have shelled out the dough for a night's stay.

We stayed out in Waltham because we had dinner reservations in Wellesley. Neither of us had ever driven through Wellesley, but we had always assumed it to be a bucolic little burg. Well, yeah it is, to put it mildly. It may be the quintessential millionaire New England town - huge well-kept mansions lined Washington Avenue as we made our way to Blue Ginger for dinner. Why do you care? You don't, actually, but we do. Being the food dorks we are, we had always wanted to dine at Ming Tsai's restaurant. He has shows on PBS, Fine Living, and sometimes appears on the Food Network to whup Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America. This was our second celebrity chef restaurant visit; and we hoped this one would turn out better. (The other was a rather expensive Omikase affair at Morimoto's in Philadelphia.)

Blue Ginger's decor is decidedly unpretentious and the atmosphere is more relaxed than we'd expected. My seat faced the open kitchen while Hoang faced the dining room full of liberal college professors from the many nearby colleges and universities. Yes, they still do wear sports coats with patches on the elbows. Anyway, just minutes after we sat down, there was Ming Tsai himself standing not 3 feet from me. Ok, ok, not exactly George Clooney or Julia Roberts, but hey, we both like Ming. We even have his sesame pepper oil in our fridge. All I wanted was to hear him say, "Guys" like he does every five minutes on TV. And besides, Check out my man's resume - Andover, Yale, Cornell... Pretty impressive dude.

I would never deign to step on this bus... Ming again!

We shared some shrimp appetizer and then got the "signature dishes" of Blue Ginger. Hoang went with Garlic-Black Pepper Lobster with Lemongrass Fried Rice and Pea Tendril Salad whereas I was goaded by the waitress into the Sake-Miso Marinated Alaskan Butterfish with Wasabi Oil, Soy Syrup and Vegetarian Soba Noodle Sushi. Let me tell you, that was easily some of the best fish I've ever eaten. Back when I worked at a seafood store, we always considered butterfish to be a ghetto fish along with porgies and whiting. I guess we were wrong. Hoang's lobster was perfectly cooked but a little too heavily sauced for my palate. We shared some sort of chocolate cake for dessert as I heard Ming say, "Pick it up guys," just like on TV. It was awesome.

I can never ask anyone other than Hoang to pose for a picture, so I was only able to take the candids accompanying this story. I was able to surreptitiously snap several photos with no flash on, but that resulted in Hoang being caught by surprise, hence the goofy looks on her face. One time, when I had Ming facing Hoang, I whipped out the camera and... And... Didn't turn off the flash. As a result, every diner and chef glared at me and my annoying chef fanboy faux pas. I turned 3 shades of red and looked for the bill immediately. (Truth be told, I was the only one who cared about the gaffe, but still...)

We paid and made our way east to South Boston for a party with a bunch of college friends. Driving in Boston is still the ridiculous, impossible crapshoot you've heard about. After driving through a mall and a couple alleyways, we miraculously found our way and had a great time in Southie. The 1 AM ride back to the hotel, however, was a bit different. It was still monsooning and the entrance to the highway was closed. Great. We finally made our way via a ridiculous detour and made our way onto the highway and back to Waltham for the night.

Flashy Ming!
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